A series of press freedom and freedom of assembly rights violations in Nigeria were the dark spots of the month of August 2019 which also saw the media in Guinea taking a firm action to denounce harassment by state actors.
On August 3, 2019, police in Nigeria arrested the publisher of the Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sorowe. A vocal critic of the Buhari government, Sorowe called Nigerians to demonstrate against perceived misrule and corruption in the country to herald a revolution under the umbrella of a movement he had launched called Revolution Now. He was, however, arrested at his hotel in Lagos by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
On August 5, Ibrahim Dan Halilu, a communication specialist, was also arrested by Operatives of the DSS that raided his house in Rigachikun, in Kaduna State and took him away around 2:00 PM local time. Halilu was accused of supporting Sowore in a Facebook post expressing solidarity with the journalists and activist.
On the same August 5, police brutalised Revolution Now demonstrators and arrested at least eight of them. Victor Ogungbero, a cameraman working with Sahara Reporters, who was covering the protest, was manhandled and taken into detention at the Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos State.
On August 19, security forces took up strategic points and prevented the gathering of people who had turned up to demonstrate against alleged misrule and corruption. The security officers turned away the would-be demonstrators and arrested several as they arrived at the Lagos Centre, Ikeja, Lagos in response to the call of the civil society movement, the Coalition for Revolution (CORE)
A BBC reporter, Andrew Gift, was also arrested by the police while he was covering the earlier stand-off between security officers and members of the CORE. Gift was detained in a police van and forced to delete pictures and videos he had taken of that morning’s events.
As these violations of the right to peaceful assembly continued in Nigeria, a similar incident was being recorded in Cote d’Ivoire. On August 5, the authorities in Sanguoine, a city located in the West of the country, denied supporters of the opposition Parti Democratique de Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI) the right to peaceful assembly. The mayor refused to acknowledge a notification letter from the PDCI regarding the holding of a public gathering to formally inaugurate the new Chairman of the party for that locality.
There was a similar violation of Freedom Assembly rights in Ghana as security forces in Navrongo, capital of the Kassena Nankana District, attacked anti-government protestors and destroyed their placards. The incident occurred on August 14, 2019, when protesters gathered by the roadside to express their grievances to President Akufo-Addo who had arrived in the District on an official visit.
Back in Nigeria, the police arrested a journalist in Lagos after he published an article demanding accountability for funds allocated to a bank project. Agba Jalingo, publisher of Cross River Watch, an online newspaper based in Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State, was arrested by police at his residence in Lagos on August 22, 2019.
In Guinea, a presenter at a private radio station in Conakry and the owner of the station are facing prosecution after the station hosted an outspoken critic of the government in a phone radio interview. Aboubacar Algassimou Diallo, host of the prime-time show Oeil de Lynx on Lynx FM, and Diallo Soulemane, owner of the said station, were summoned by the Criminal Investigations Department of the Police (CID) on August 19, 2019. The two were placed under judicial control.
A Magistrate’s Court in Cotonou on August 12, 2019, sentenced a journalist to a one-month suspended jail term and a fine 550,000 francs CFA (about US $ 850) after being found guilty of “publishing false information on the internet.” The journalist, Ignace Sossou of Web Benin TV, an online media outlet, had published two investigative articles in which he made tax evasion allegations against Jean Luc Tchifteyan, a businessman of French nationality and owner of the Tchifteyan Group of Companies based in Cotonou.
In other developments, on August 15, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in collaboration with Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ) organised a Forum for the Adoption of a Framework on Police Media-Relationship and Safety of Journalists in Abuja. The Framework aims at regulating regulations between security agencies and the media. It was developed as part of the recommendations made at a Police-Media Forum organised to ensure peaceful police-media relations during Nigeria’s February 2019 elections. Aim?
Private radio stations in Guinea on August 29, 2019, made a two-hour synergy broadcast to denounce recent intimidation and abuse of journalists by the police and the judiciary. Media managers, journalists and a lawyer formed the panel for the programme which was carried live by all radio stations and news websites across the country, with extensive tweets by media professionals and press freedom activists in Guinea.
The protest broadcast was the second show of rage against recent acts of intimidation against the media in the country. On August 26, 2019, media professionals from the private media stormed the premises of the media regulatory body, Haute Autorite de la Communication (HAC), where they held a sit-in to register their anger at the spate of arrests, detentions and intimidating summoning of journalists.